GHANA: Response to “thriving” child sex industry too weak

Monday, March 24, 2008

By early evening the corridors of the Soldier Bar brothel in a busy commercial area of Accra were already filled with long queues of young girls and their clients, when heavily armed police stormed in, arresting all 160 of the girls.

The targets of the raid, which took place in February, were the 60 girls among them who were aged under 16 who had been recruited according to brothel manager Matthew Abanga to service the brothel's teenage clients.

"We drove the [young boys] away initially and did not allow them to come here, but after a while we realised we could make more money if we can meet their demands by supplying them with younger prostitutes of the same age, so we started recruiting child prostitutes as well," he said.

With an estimated 20, 000 children on the streets of Accra, many already engaged in child labour, Abanga and the owners of the brothel did not find it difficult recruiting child sex workers. "We knew it was wrong but the money was good," Abanga told IRIN.

Fertile ground

Dr. Obiri Yeboah, a sociologist at the Accra Polytechnic who has studied the sex trade in Ghana said urbanisation is mainly to blame for what he says is a growing prostitution phenomenon, as the traditional extended family systems that Ghanaians used to rely on have collapsed, leaving children without families to protect them.

"The whole social structure coupled with stark poverty lays a fertile foundation for such brothels to thrive," he said. Yeboah points to the 25,000 children the Ghana AIDS commission estimates have HIV/AIDS as a sign of the worst effect of the phenomenon on children.

"Because they are children unlike the adults they have little say in determining whether to use protection or not. Their adult clients often dictate the terms. With no protection they contract HIV/AIDS and often die in silence," Yeboah said.


The Ministry of Women and Children's Affairs in Ghana has launched programmes which focus on "rescuing, rehabilitating and reintegrating" children involved in sex work by caring for them at dedicated centres. Ghana's police force has recently launched a "war on child prostitution".

The Deputy Women and Children's Affairs Minister, Daniel Dugan, acknowledged however that the programme has shortfalls. He said the lack of accommodation to house all the girls plus a lack of personnel makes it difficult to effectively monitor the girls and to stop them returning to working in the sex trade.

Of the 60 underage girls arrested at the Soldier Bar, for example, only 20 are still part of the programme. And while the brothel's manager is still in custody, its owner is free.

Dugan said a committee has been set up including the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) to provide funding for the fight against child prostitution.

The ministry will use some of the money to fund a nationwide survey to establish the extent of the problem, Dugan said. "We have received reports that brothels are thriving across the country exploiting children for money," he explained. "We want to understand the nature, extent and dynamics of this problem so we can better deal with it."


The government also plans to involve non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in introducing child sex workers to vocational training to try to give them alternatives to the sex trade.

"The solution starts with economic empowerment and an intensive educational campaign to get families to be more conscious of their responsibilities to these children," the academic Yeboah said, while criticizing the authorities for "not doing enough" so far to combat the trade and "lacking a full appreciation of the extent and effect of such exploitation on the children".

Bright Appiah, Executive Director of the NGO Children's Rights International in Ghana said civil society has much to offer.

"Some NGO's are far better equipped than the government-run Social Welfare Department and they can offer better rehabilitation and protection for these girls" he said.